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Conclusions by the Working Groups of the ‘Building the Culture of Voluntarism’ Conference

1. Promotion and development of the culture of voluntarism

• Although we volunteer, we do not only give, we always receive something in return whether we expect it consciously or not
• The basic dialogue groups that should be in focus, not only when creating the promotional plan of an event, but also when promoting the culture and mission of voluntarism, are: the volunteers we want to attract, decision makers and informal opinion leaders.
• Volunteers should be aware that in everyday (in)formal communication they actually send the messages on volunteer work – they should always be educational and optimistic – we build the culture of voluntarism and explain our motivation
• Messages that we communicate have to be carefully conveyed and they should always carry one of the motives that inspire people to volunteer
• Messages that we convey to media must be interesting and intriguing; these should not be just announcements, but also the promotion of the content and goals of an event
• Communication of all organised forms of voluntarism should have constant dynamics – even when there are no events that require engagement of volunteers, we should maintain the atmosphere of activism: we publish posts on activities of other voluntary centres, we invite people to educate, exchange ideas and thoughts…
• Through the promotional plan for voluntarism we create the chain of values we want to share

2. Law and legal framework for voluntarism

• The working group has stated that the idea on adopting the Law on Voluntarism was initiated with the ‘Izvor’ initiative in 2004. The draft of this Law had a supporting elements and envisaged voluntarism as a general social activity that brings benefits to all citizens of a country.
• The Law from 2010 was deemed by the working group as ‘entangling’ voluntarism into administration and bureaucratic knots, which are too standardised for the development of voluntarism. Furthermore, the Law was assessed as an element that drains finances and time of organisations, and in this setup there are no real effects of voluntarism, and the will to volunteer is stifled.
• The application and practice in implementing the Law on Voluntarism has been assessed more as ‘forcing’ than as inclusion in different sectors on one’s own will and in accordance with one’s wishes. Due to the lack of other formal options, large number of young people turn to ‘voluntarism’ as an option to get closer to the world of professional work and employment.
• The working group assessed that the Law should be relaxed, and procedures for registration of, and work with volunteers should be simplified.
• It is necessary to make clear distinction from the activities that belong to the sphere of employment, such as internship and apprenticeship. The public is confused regarding these notions that have been unjustly identified with voluntarism.
• The working group recommends more intensive application at local level, such as the example of the Municipality of Zvezdara.
• The value of voluntarism, in the widest possible sense, is something that should be actively worked on at all levels and with all age groups.

3. How to organise voluntarism in institutions

• The ‘Voluntarism in institutions – challenges and problems’ working group discussed the reasons for problems and visible consequences that develop in the field of voluntarism in institutions. Problem tree was presented. This, in a visual way, presents the challenges and problems in this area.
• The first issue that participants stated in the root of the problem was the legal frame. The current Law on Voluntarism is a document that hinders rather than strengthens organisations and institutions in engaging volunteers. The unclear structure and complicated procedure of the Law repels institutions from forming voluntary programmes.
• The lack of voluntary programmes in institutions. Institutions perhaps do not have the will, ideas or initiative to organise voluntary programmes, or they simply do not have the knowledge, mechanism, or tools to organise voluntary programmes.
• Various stereotypes and prejudice about voluntary work exist in our environment. The distorted image on voluntary work: ‘It’s working for free!’ hinders institutions to create voluntary programmes. This issue has two points of view. Firstly, interns, trainees and young experts are hired, because according to the law they have to finish their internship in order to get the licence in their respective fields and thus find a job. The second point refers to constant depreciation of voluntary work because it is useless and not mandatory work. In our society, we still do not have a positive attitude towards voluntary work as an attitude of a majority in their system of values.
• When volunteers do appear in institutions, motivation is not enough, they do not remain there for long, maybe they do not have enough enthusiasm to make volunteers feel like they belong to that organisation or institution. The lack of sense of belonging can be both a problem and a consequence of the above mentioned. The sense of belonging was defined by the participants as a volunteer’s feeling of being accepted, of being able to freely use resources of an organisation or institution, take initiative and responsibly perform his/her job.
• The following consequences have been identified in the ‘tree root’: there is still widespread ignorance about voluntarism, there is lack of clearly defined voluntary programmes and job descriptions, and the visibility of voluntary programmes (if they exist) is poor.
• The means for tackling these issues are to create a different system of values in the society, to encourage development of voluntary culture, and to encourage networking and team work of all organisations that recognise this need.
• The special value in the field of voluntarism in institutions was given to the support to the local community and activities of individuals – volunteers. The support of environment and initiative of volunteers are key aspects in encouraging development of voluntarism in institutions.

4. Innovative practices in voluntarism

• One of the innovative practices used in voluntary work is voluntarism based on community work – diversion, which comprises voluntary work of people who are serving sentences in prisons that participate in voluntarism.
• Another form of innovative practice is online voluntarism that comprises mapping of volunteers, where volunteers know precisely which institution, as well as which city, has a need for voluntary work. One of the most common forms of this online voluntarism is helping mothers that were recently in labour. This is very useful form of voluntarism, because when these mothers realise how helpful volunteers can be, they themselves become volunteers later, which is a multifaceted benefit of voluntarism.
• The notion ‘time bank’ was also discussed. This notion means that a volunteer is trained, i.e. he/she completes a workshop and acquires certain skills, and then returns to his/her local community or organisation and presents there what he/she learnt. The very act of transferring the knowledge is at the same time new workshop for additional 20 people which saves time, circa 20 hours, which would otherwise be spent on training each individual person.
• One of the challenges posed is monitoring and management of volunteers and programmes, as well as qualitative factors, and insufficient information about voluntarism (this can be solved by creating guidelines/manual so that people would be more informed)
• Another challenge is to animate young people to volunteer:
– awarding certificates to those who attended a certain workshop or a seminar
– acquiring educational and creative skills during workshops or seminars
– organise forums in order for young people find out what they ‘receive’ if they volunteer
– include the social sector in voluntarism
• We should have constantly stress that volunteers become ‘local heroes’ and have an opportunity to tell their stories – why they do voluntary work.

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